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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 27

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Follow this post for rolling updates on the impact of the coronavirus in South Australia, the nation and the world, as well as the latest health information and links to official advice.

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Refresh this page for updates – scroll down for links to official health information.

Returning Aussies to be locked in hotels

Australians returning from overseas as the coronavirus pandemic worsens will now be quarantined in hotels and other facilities for two weeks before returning to their homes.

The crackdown on international travellers will come into effect on Saturday night and be enforced by the states and territories with support from the Australian Defence Force.

Defence personnel will also help enforce existing self-isolation restrictions on people who have already returned from overseas to ensure they are staying at home for 14 days.

Almost two-thirds of the more than 3000 cases of coronavirus recorded in Australia are among people who have returned from overseas.

A significant percentage of the remaining cases are believed to have been transmitted to others by returned overseas travellers.

Morrison also foreshadowed more help for business.

He said “hibernation” of Australian businesses will be allowed so they will not be saddled by rent and other costs during the next six months. Details will be announced in coming days.

SA cases rise to 257

South Australian cases of COVID-19 have increased to 257, with 22 new cases – ranging from 10 years-old to mid-70s – reported by SA Health on Friday.

Chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier revealed six people were now in intensive care, two of whom were in a critical condition.

She said the new cases – fewer than yesterday’s increase – included nine people from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, bringing the total number of South Australians cases from cruise ships to 77, and a 10-year-old child who had been in self-isolation since becoming infectious.

Premier Steven Marshall flagged that South Australians may be forced to self-isolate for 28 days if returning from overseas and landing in another city before arriving in South Australia. He said the State Government was working through the implications of a national mandatory two-week quarantine.

Meanwhile, Kingston Community School in the South-East has closed today after a student tested positive to the virus.

Intensive care staff concerns

The State Government is looking at ways to boost its intensive care workforce.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said deputy chief public heath officer Dr Evan Everest had addressed staffing concerns in a recent briefing.

“The challenge we have in South Australia in relation to ICU capacity is actually the workforce to provide the services to man those facilities,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“Dr Everest, in partnership with a range of professional leads within SA Health, is working actively to both expand the workforce and also upskill the workforce.”

Wade said options being considered included inviting back medical interns who had done ICU placements.

Also in South Australia…

Government spending

The State Government yesterday announced details of its second jobs package, bringing total projected spending to about $1 billion. The new package includes payroll and land tax relief, a liquor licensing holiday, two funds for businesses and community, and special provisions for public servants.

The Government revealed today that it would spend an extra $10 million on public housing maintenance for 1000 Housing SA homes, including 250 in regional South Australia. The work, which the Government says will begin immediately, will include “painting, lighting and roofing upgrades through to significant works including new kitchens and bathrooms”.

Oakbank racing carnival abandoned

The racing industry has abandoned the Oakbank Easter Carnival and Clare Easter Saturday race meetings.

Thoroughbred Racing SA today announced measures to provide “the safest possible environment” for the industry – one of the few recreational pursuits to continue during the COVID-19 crisis.

While spectators have already been banned, the industry has continued to run race meetings.

TRSA today announced a raft of new measures including moving more meetings to metro and provincial tracks, and a 15 per cent reduction in prizemoney from April 1 to June 30.

SA social housing rents capped

The state government says social housing rents will not increase, after Jobseeker payments doubled as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus packages.

Jobseekers payments are now worth $1115.70 per fortnight – up from the previous $550 a fortnight.

In South Australia, most social housing tenants pay 25 per cent of their income – or market rent, whichever is the lesser – towards their rent.

SA Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink told InDaily this morning that SA Housing or community housing tenants who receive COVID-19 stimulus support payments will not have to pay increased rent in line with their additional income.

She said the decision was made to ensure SA public housing tenants “will receive the full benefit of the Federal Government’s stimulus increases”. 

“We recognise South Australians are hurting right now and we know that every little bit helps,” she said.

Breastscreen SA closes for three months

BreastScreen SA has suspended its breast cancer screening program for an initial three months.

BreastScreen SA general manager Niamh Wade said services will initially be suspended for a period of three months.

The closure will affect all seven of BreastScreen SA’s metropolitan screening clinics, three mobile screening units and a dedicated assessment clinic.

“The closure is a precautionary measure and is not due to a suspected case of COVID-19 at its facilities,” it said.

Clients with a current booking will be contacted via phone and SMS to have that appointment postponed until services resume, while results for any woman who has had a breast screen recently will be available within the next two weeks.

Services are in place to ensure any woman requiring assessment and further testing will be offered a suitable appointment and once services resume, appointments will be prioritised for those women who will be due for their regular screening mammogram during the suspension period.

National toll rises

The number of virus deaths in Australia stands at 13, with confirmed cases rising to 2799 overnight.

There have been 370 new cases since Wednesday, compares with 290 in the previous 24 hours.

NSW accounted for 190 new cases, with a total of 1405 on Friday, including two girls aged one and two.

While 877 of the NSW total were infected overseas, 278 were infected locally from contact with a confirmed case or a known cluster.

But the source of infection for 145 – more than half of those locally acquired – is unknown, causing great concern amongst health authorities.

The NSW government is closely watching the figures and says it is prepared to order a lockdown as early as this weekend if necessary.

Woolworths to take on extra 20,000 workers

Up to 20,000 jobs are up for grabs as Woolworths takes on workers across Australia to keep up supplies of food and drink during the coronavirus outbreak.

The roles in its supermarkets, e-commerce, supply chain and drinks businesses are expected to be filled in the next month.

“These are uncertain times for many industries and we have an important role to play keeping Australians employed through this crisis,” Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said in a statement on Friday.

“These new roles will not only help us better serve the increase in demand we’re seeing in stores right now but also allow us to scale up home delivery operations in the months ahead.”

The new jobs will be welcome news for the thousands of Australian, mainly in the hospitality and retail sectors, who were laid off last week.

However, Woolworths said its immediate focus would be to redeploy its ALH workers impacted by this week’s mandatory hotel closures.

InDaily reported yesterday that Optus is putting on 500 positions across Australia with a substantial portion in Adelaide.

More businesses shut doors

It’s understood clothing chain Kathmandu will stand down about 2000 Australian staff for four weeks from today.

Kathmandu has about 170 stores in Australia and NZ, and more than 100 Rip Curl stores and has already closed stores in Brazil, Europe, New Zealand and North America.

On Thursday, Premier Investments – which owns the Smiggle, Peter Alexander, Portmans and Just Jeans stores – stood down 9,000 workers around the world.

Jewellery chain Lovisa and Athlete’s Foot owner Accent Group temporarily closed 400 stores and 500 stores respectively.

Accent, which also owns the Platypus and Hype shoe chains, will stand down a reported 5,000 staff.

Mosaic Brands – the owner of Noni B, Rivers and Katies – said it will stand down 6,800 employees across 1,300 stores while Michael Hill Jewellers earlier this week announced it would shut 300 stores, including 165 in Australia.

Qantas has stood down 20,000 of its 30,000 workers, and Virgin Australia has done the same for 8,000 staff.

Flight Centre says an initial 6,000 of its global sales and support staff globally will either be stood down or made redundant.

US cases hit world high

US coronavirus cases on Friday hit 81,378 on Thursday, with China second on 81,285 and Italy third with 80,539.

At least 1,178 people in the US have died from COVID-19, according to a running tally based on reports from state and local public health authorities, including about 400 in New York.

An expected shortfall of ventilators – machines that support respiration for people who have lost the ability to breathe on their own – was substantial, as a surge of cases overwhelms New York hospitals, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“Any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the healthcare system,” he said. “The number of ventilators we need is so astronomical – it’s not like they have them sitting in the warehouse,” Cuomo added. “There is no stockpile available.”

At least one New York hospital has begun a trial of sharing single ventilators between two patients, while the state is looking for sites to set up temporary hospitals.

Italy deaths surge

Hopes that Italy’s crisis might have peaked have been dashed after 712 people died of the disease in the last 24 hours.

The death toll is 8215 – well over double that seen in anywhere else in the world – while new infections rose by 6153, despite stringent lockdown measures introduced progressively since February 23.

There had been slight declines in both new cases and deaths earlier this week, but the northern region of Lombardy, the epicentre of the outbreak, saw its numbers climb on Thursday.

“I do not know if we have hit the peak or if we have missed something … all I can say is that I am worried,” Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana said.

“I think that in two or three days we will understand if the measures we have taken are working.”

China begins to emerge from lockdown

The city of Wuhan where the virus first appeared late last year will lift its lockdown on April 8, with the province of Hubei opening its borders after reporting no new cases on Wednesday.

The fatality rate in Wuhan stood at about 5 per cent, said Qiu Haibo, a medical expert on a panel led by the central government, according to the official People’s Daily.

In Xianning, a city in southeastern Hubei, public transport restarted and residents strolled the streets wearing masks.

Mainland China reported no new locally transmitted cases of coronavirus for the sixth time in eight days, but the number of imported cases rose, prompting increased checks and quarantine measures.

All 67 new cases reported by the end of Wednesday and all 47 on Tuesday were imported, the National Health Commission said.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui said 90 per cent of imported cases were Chinese passport holders, with 40 per cent of those being overseas Chinese students returning home.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

SA Health: www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/COVID2019

National advice and information

Australian Government Coronavirus information hotline: 1800 020 080

Travel

Australian Government travel advice: smartraveller.gov.au

Check your symptoms

Free, government-funded, health advice: healthdirect.gov.au

– Reporting by InDaily staff, AAP and Reuters

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